$5,000 turned in by helper

The senior center volunteer finds cash in a widow's donation.

By Nicole Hutcheson, Times Staff Writer
Published March 6, 2008

GULFPORT - If there's any question whether honest people still exist, look no further than Rita Thompson, a volunteer at the Gulfport Senior Center.

On Friday, while sifting through clothes at the center's annual flea market sale, Thompson came across a bag that felt like something was inside. So she unzipped the small bag and found a wad of cash: $5,000 to be exact.

"I opened it up, and all I could say was, 'Oh, my God,'" said Thompson, 82. "All I saw was hundred-dollar bills. I nearly fell over."

Thompson called another volunteer over, who then counted the money. Then they told Susan Frank, the director at the center.

Thompson thought back to the day before the flea market when she went to pick up a couple of boxes at a widow's home. The woman's husband had died a few years ago, and she was finally ready to let go of some things.

On Friday evening after the flea market closed, Thompson and the other volunteers began gathering up all of the unsold items. They planned to donate them to the Salvation Army, Thompson said.

That's when Thompson found the money.

The senior center, at 5501 27th St., has been in Gulfport for almost 25 years. The center offers educational, recreation and social activities for more than 2,000 registered members, Frank said. There are about 100 volunteers.

"I was really shocked but grateful," Frank said of Thompson's actions. "We know we have wonderful volunteers here, but the total honesty and integrity of our volunteers is phenomenal."

The woman who donated the bag asked to remain anonymous. She later came to reclaim the cash.

Thompson who was raised in the small town of Garrison, N.Y., said she didn't think twice about returning the money.

"If it's not yours, you don't take it," Thompson said. "That's the way I was brought up."

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8828.